Information obtained through a new FOI makes it clear that the BC Pavillion Corporation (Pavco) was planning to relocate Edgewater Casino to the BC Place redevelopment up to a year before issuing an RFP for a redevelopment partner.
In the winter of 2007 Pavco met with then City Manager Judy Rogers to discuss the redevelopment of BC Place Stadium. And they came with a proposal to fast track BC Place’s zoning requirements with Pavco paying half the cost.
Rogers agreed and set up a steering committee made up of key city staff. On top of that she hired her former boss and Gordon Campbell’s former Deputy Minister Ken Dobell to run the committee.
The work began in the spring of 2008 and ended with the passing of a new Official Development Plan (ODP) at the last council meeting before the 2008 municipal election.
Committee member Trish French made the case for that date saying “for sure we don’t want to go to the Dec. 16 C mtg. with a new council”
Roger’s report to council had one unusual item. It changed the zoning for the BC Place lands to add a new use, “major casino”.
That new use came out of nowhere. The public hadn’t asked for it. The city hadn’t asked for it. And there’s no record of a proponent asking for it. So where did it come from?
New documents obtained through an FOI to the City of Vancouver show that the idea came from Pavco.
The Steering Committee flagged Pavco’s desire to put the Casino into a redeveloped BC Place early in the process. A “Summary of Issues” for the Committee’s August 8th meeting notes: “An ideal use of the large podium on the west side is a casino and Pavco is actively planning and protecting this potential” (my emphasis).
The summary went on to caution raising this issue: “Does not need to be specifically mentioned as part of the ODP report.”
There was and is only one prospective casino for that site, the Edgewater, which was required to relocate by 2013. Paragon Gaming, Edgewater’s operators owned the last available casino license for the City of Vancouver.
Adding the casino use in a quiet way wasn’t the only issue to manage. Paragon had a specific floor space requirement that had design repercussions for both BC Place and the City. For BC Place it meant increasing the floor plate size to accommodate a bigger Casino. That jeopardized a city right of way for transit use. According to the Issue Summary: “Engineer is requiring a 6m ROW to allow for future street car movement on the north side of Pacific Boulevard near Smithe Street extension. This could inhibit the ability of PAVCO to create a 90,000 + floor plate which is desired by a casino user (my emphasis).”
The city countered Pavco’s proposal for a floor plate design that would wipe out the transit route. “The casino” the steering committee minutes notes, “could be accommodated if on an upper floor, possible cantilevered.”
The cantilevered design was proposed to Stantec, Pavco’s design consultant on the BC Place project as noted in the Issue Summary: “Staff have considered the possibility of allowing a cantilever and have provided clearance information to Stantec .”
This issue of the floor plate size was specific to the Casino according to the Steering Committee. “The only use that poses a conflict with a reduced floor plate is a casino which is pushing for very large floor plates, resulting in a very aggressive streetwall. All other uses could easily respond to reduced floor plate requirements.
But why did Edgewater require such a large floor plate? 90,000 square feet is almost triple the current floor space requirements of the casino – about 30,000 square feet. This and the new “major casino’ land use means Paragon and BC Place were already planning for a much bigger casino with more slots and more tables than the existing Edgewater incarnation in the old BC Pavilion.
The documents are clear. In 2008 the BC Pavillion Corporation was designing the new BC Place to accommodate a greatly expanded Edgewater Casino. It had communicated that to its design consultants and the City of Vancouver.
The new Edgewater at BC Place would have almost triple the floor space of the existing Casino.
Pavco, its design firm and the City all knew Edgewater’s needs and managed the zoning process to accommodate them. Pavco and the City did this for no other player.
What’s wrong with this?
At the time Pavco was still more than eight months away from issuing an RFP for a redevelopment partner. They did that in April 2009 and selected Paragon, the owners of Edgewater, in a shortened process 6 weeks later.
In other words they selected the partner they had been working with for up to a year – changing the stadium design and city Rights of Way to accomodate Paragon.
As well when the Sullivan Council passed the redevelopment zoning in October 2008 – with City staff fully aware of Edgewater’s role – the City was still almost two years away from a legally required vote to allow the move of the Casino to the BC Place site.
No other possible proponent got this kind of attention. No other possible proponent had a transit right of way changed to accommodate them or the stadium designed to fit their needs. A reasonable person can only conclude there was no other likely proponent. The RFP process appears fixed from the start.
Pavco set up Paragon to win the bid, raising more questions about a corrupt and possible fraudulent bidding process.
The process appears to violate the rules regarding Capital procurement in BC. The policy states from the top:
- Capital management decisions must be based on meeting service needs rather than the delivery method. No one way is inherently better in building and operating public assets and safeguarding the public interest. The full range of options needs to be considered to arrive at the best value for money.
- Private sector procurement must be fair, open and competitive, and consistent with government procurement policy.
The procurement policy also contains provisions regarding “unfair advantage” such as having access to information that gives one bidder an advantage over another. Having the floor plate designed to accommodate your proposal would fit the definition.
In fact it appears Paragon got such a head start on possible competitors that no other proponent was feasible, which may account for the fact that only two bids were even considered. And the decision to select Paragon was made in just three weeks.
In other words the RFP was over before it began.
And what about the city in this? City staff led by City Manager Judy Rogers set up council for a positive vote to move a dramatically expanded Casino to the BC Place site with almost no disclosure to the public.
It almost succeeded, except for one thing: the municipal election changed council and the set up failed.